Coronavirus: British man with throat symptoms put into isolation after flying home to UK

Number of cases worldwide doubling about every five days, health secretary reveals

Jane Dalton
Monday 03 February 2020 22:23
Timelapse video shows China's emergency coronavirus hospital built within 10 days

A British man put in isolation after feeling ill on a flight home from China ​is awaiting the results of coronavirus tests.

Anthony May-Smith said he had “a bit of a cough and a sore throat” as he travelled on the second evacuation flight carrying 11 British nationals from Wuhan on Sunday.

He added he now felt “fine” and attributed his symptoms to “the stress of getting back and being run down”.

The number of deaths from the epidemic has risen to 426 as the outbreak spreads around the world, with infections in China – where all but one of the victims have died – exceeding 20,000 on Monday.

At least another 171 cases – including two in Britain – have been reported in countries including Australia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, Spain and Thailand.

Matt Hancock, the UK’s health secretary said on Monday the number of cases of the virus worldwide was doubling roughly every five days,.

Announcing £20m of investment to help develop a vaccine, he said Public Health England scientists had sequenced the virus genome.

They discovered the virus had not changed over the past four weeks but the outbreak would be “with us for some months”, Mr Hancock warned, adding: “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Britain has 50 specialist beds, and potentially 500 more to isolate victims, and the government was working on plans to provide more beds should they be needed, he said.

The UK’s chief medical officer has raised the risk from low to moderate, while officials continue to try to trace 239 people who travelled from Wuhan to the UK before travel restrictions began.

Two people, a University of York student and a relative, are being treated for the virus at Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary.

Chinese scientists say they have more evidence that the new coronavirus is likely to have originated in bats – as the Sars virus was thought to have done.

Mr May-Smith was placed in quarantine on the evacuation flight carrying Europeans from Wuhan to France, and then continued his journey to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

He told Sky News: “We went through a load of checks at the airport in Wuhan ... Then there was 30 of us on that flight to France that were put in a quarantine section.

“When we boarded the plane in France to come to the UK, the nurse asked if any of us had had any sort of symptoms in China.”

He was told to sit away from anybody else.

“There were people with babies on the flight and I obviously just didn’t want to be anywhere near them, just in case,” Mr May-Smith.

“I feel fine now, I think it’s probably the stress of getting back and being run down more than anything.”

The other 10 British people on the flight joined 83 others already in isolation at Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral, although health chiefs said they will be kept entirely separate.

The first coronavirus death outside China was reported on Sunday, that of a 44-year-old Chinese man who died in the Philippines after going there from Wuhan.

In the US, five new patients include a second case of person-to-person transmission within the country.

The British Embassy in Beijing said the last flights from China for UK nationals would leave this week and will be run by “partner countries”.

UK officials insist there are no plans to introduce a US-style ban on foreigners who have recently been in China from entering the country. The World Health Organisation does not advocate such bans, which have also been implemented by other nations such as New Zealand and Australia.

Mr Hancock said anyone who suspected they had symptoms should not go to hospital as they risked spreading the virus but instead should call the NHS on 111.

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